Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for July 2017

Busy day, personally

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Saw a psychiatrist and got my Genesight report. A few interesting findings:  The only anti-depressant that I should avoid is Wellbutrin, only one I should take is Pristiq (which is now available as a generic). (The antidepressant is purely prophylactic. In my last move—the first time I had seriously to downsize—I not only was depressed but (until the antidepressant) but had anxiety attacks, which I am sorry to tell you, are quite unpleasant. My hope is that getting on an antidepressant ind advance will preclude anxiety attacks.)

Pristiq is son of Effexor. Effexor consists of such a substance that, when metabolized, produces substance beta, which has an antidepressant effect. Pristiq is essentially consists of substance beta. It’s a tablet with a thin rubbery outer coating that has in it a single small hole: voilà! time-release. The psychiatrist said he has some patients using the generic and it works fine.

Since Pristiq does not depend on a metabolizing pathway, it’s in the “green” part of the report for everyone: any metabolizing deficiencies are irrelevant: it’s pre-metabolized.

My folic acid conversion function is normal (the folates are essential in the neural-signaling system), but a guy I know had his folic acid conversion in the red zone, which meant taking folic acid supplements would be meaningless: the problem he has in converting the folic acid to usable form is not solved by giving him more to convert. So he now has a prescription for pre-converted folate (I’m starting to see a pattern). However, if you are in the amber zone—able to convert some folic acid to folate—I think a good idea would be upping the green leafy vegetables. (Tonight I am having red kale, a red leafy vegetable, with shallots, garlic, olive oil, and—get this—fig balsamic vinegar: Enzo’s Table has some specials.)

A really great documentary: Inside Job, narrated by Matt Damon. Available on Hulu, rentable on Amazon.

An interesting report from The Wife. I made this recipe by Julia Reed again, and did it right after a rewrite (in Paprika Recipe Manager) of the method:

Melt butter in the oil in a large deep skillet over high heat. Season chops with salt and pepper and add them, browning well, about 2 or 3 minutes a side, reducing the heat slightly if chops brown too quickly.

Remove chops to a platter and pour off most of the fat. [In fact, there was not much fat. – LG] Add green onions or shallots and cook over medium-high heat until softened, about 1 minute.

Add WINE and bring to a boil, scraping brown bits off the bottom.

Stir in the STOCK and return chops to the pan. Bring the sauce to a simmer, cover and cook until chops are tender, about 15 minutes.

Remove the chops to a warm platter; cover with foil to keep warm.

Raise the heat and boil pan juices to reduce by half, about 2 minutes.

Add CREAM and boil 2 minutes more, until sauce reduces a bit and thickens.

Remove from the heat and whisk in MUSTARD and the parsley, if using. Taste and add more mustard if desired. Immediately spoon sauce over the chops and serve.

That revision showed me more clearly the sequence of additions, and tonight it’s much better.

BUT:

The “Raise the heat and boil pan juices to reduce by half, about 2 minutes.” is totally bogus. I must have gone 8 or 10 minutes, possibly more to reduce the volume by half.

I complained, as is my wont, to The Wife, who surely understands all that escapes my grasp. “Fear not,” she said. “It is a scam.”

As she explained, on-line recipe writers don’t want to write something like “Caramelize onions by stirring very frequently over medium heat for 40 mintues.”

Instead, they write “Caramelize onions by stirring very frequently over medium heat for 10 minutes.” They know it’s wrong as well as they know the sunk-cost fallacy (aka the Escalation of commitment) and as well as they know that if the recipe includes “Raise the heat and boil pan juices to reduce by half, about 15 minutes,” that half (or more) of their readers would not try the recipe. So, not to put too fine a point on it, they lie. They assume the reader will realize that the important point is “reduce by half,” not “2 minutes.”

And indeed, once I had the bit in my teeth, I reduced that sucker, regardless of time. And it’s very tasty. Indeed, when I tasted it, my immediate impression was, “This is an expensive-restaurant dish.” Really remarkably good. But change “2 minutes” in the above to “12 minutes.”

And, BTW, I found the 2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard (instead of 1) tasted better to us.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2017 at 7:46 pm

Posted in Food, Low carb, Recipes

Wee Scot, Klar Seifen, iKon OC, and Cavendish

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With this shave I finally found the iKon open-comb that impressed me with its comfort as well as its efficiency. I have three different iKon razors that have a comb guard: the Shavecraft Short Comb; a stainless with two baseplates, comb guard on one, bar guard on the other; and and older stainless with a comb guard.

I started with prep, as is my custom, using the Wee Scot and getting an extremely good lather from the small tub of Klar Seifen. As soon as I started shaving with this razor, I recognized it as the one I had used before. (I could have looked back through my SOTD posts, but that seemed cheating.) It is noticeably more comfortable than the Short Comb, which itself isn’t bad, and it is also quite efficient.

After three passes, I had a perfectly smooth face with no problems (i.e., no nicks), and a splash of Cavendish set me up for the day—a busy day, in fact. Probably little blogging today.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2017 at 8:55 am

Posted in Shaving

Maureen Dowd hits it out of the park

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Read her column today, which begins:

Donald Trump was promising to destroy a vile criminal cartel.

Unfortunately, not his own.

But one could be forgiven for mistaking the vicious tactics of the MS-13 gang, as described by the president in a Long Island speech on Friday, with those of the Trump White House.

“They don’t like shooting people because it’s too quick, it’s too fast,” Trump said, adding: “They like to knife them and cut them, and let them die slowly because that way, it’s more painful, and they enjoy watching that much more. These are animals.”

The president could have been describing his own sadistic assault on Jeff Sessions, “as flies to wanton boys,” as Shakespeare said. Trump turned Sessions — with all his backward views on gays, drugs and criminal justice — into an unlikely hero for lawmakers from both parties who began hailing him as a crown jewel of American jurisprudence.

In his speech, Trump encouraged police brutality and said he was “the big, big believer and admirer of the people in law enforcement, O.K.?” He said that he’s protecting the backs of law enforcement “100 percent.” Except for Sessions, Sally Yates, Preet Bharara and Robert Mueller.

As two people close to Trump told The Times’s Maggie Haberman when asked why he was tormenting Sessions instead of firing him: Because he can.

Six months in, Trump has pushed out a staggering number of top people, culminating with Reince Priebus. And in his paranoid, aggrieved isolation, he’s even thinking about nixing Steve Bannon, nemesis of the Mooch, and mulling firing the one who could get him fired, Mueller, and pardoning himself for possible charges.

Trump learned his technique of publicly criticizing and freely firing from  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2017 at 8:12 pm

10,000 Hours With Claude Shannon: How A Genius Thinks, Works, and Lives

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Jimmy Soni writes at Medium:

For the last five years, we lived with one of the most brilliant people on the planet.

Sort of.

See, we just published the biography of Dr. Claude Shannon. He’s the most important genius you’ve never heard of, a man whose intellect was on par with Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton.

We spent five years with him. It’s not an exaggeration to say that, during that period, we spent more time with the deceased Claude Shannon than we have with many of our living friends. He became something like the roommate in the spare bedroom of our minds, the guy who was always hanging around and occupying our head space.

Yes, we were the ones telling his story, but in telling it, he affected us, too. Geniuses have a unique way of engaging with the world, and if you spend enough time examining their habits, you discover the behaviors behind their brilliance. Whether or not we intended it to, understanding Claude Shannon’s life gave us lessons on how to better live our own.

That’s what follows in this essay. It’s the good stuff our roommate left behind.

Claude, Who?

His name may not ring a bell. Don’t worry, we didn’t know who he was either when we started.

So who was he?

Within engineering and mathematics circles, Shannon is a revered figure. Claude Shannon’s work in the 1930s and 1940s earned him the title of “father of the information age.” At the age of 21, he published what’s been called the most important master’s thesis of all time, explaining how binary switches could do logic. It laid the foundation for all future digital computers.

He wasn’t done. At the age of 32, he published “A Mathematical Theory of Communication,” which has been called “the Magna Carta of the information age.” Shannon’s masterwork invented the bit, or the objective measurement of information, and explained how digital codes could allow us to compress and send any message with perfect accuracy.

But that’s not all he did.

Claude Shannon wasn’t just a brilliant theoretical mind — he was a remarkably fertile, fun, practical, and inventive one as well. There are plenty of mathematicians and engineers who write great papers. There are fewer of them who, like Shannon, are also jugglers, unicyclists, gadgeteers, first-rate chess players, codebreakers, expert stock-pickers, and amateur poets.

He worked on the top-secret transatlantic phone line connecting FDR and Winston Churchill during World War II and co-built what was arguably the world’s first wearable computer. He learned to fly airplanes and played the jazz clarinet. He rigged up a false wall in his house that could rotate with the press of a button, and he once built a gadget whose only purpose when it was turned on was to open up, release a mechanical hand, and turn itself off. Oh, and he once had a photo spread in Vogue magazine.

Think of him as a cross between Albert Einstein and the Dos Equis guy.

Asking the questions he probably wouldn’t

We aren’t mathematicians or engineers; we write books and speeches, not code. That meant we had a steep learning curve in making sense of his work.

But that was sort of the point: We had to learn everything from scratch and make it sensible on the page. Had we approached this book as experts, we might have been tempted to go deeper and deeper into the details of Shannon’s theorems, diagrams, and proofs.

But because we approached this book as learners, we were particularly interested in a broader, more generalist set of questions: how does a mind like Claude Shannon’s work? What shapes a mind like that? What does a mind like that do for fun? What can we take from it to be just a bit more brilliant in our own pursuits, whatever they happen to be?

Claude Shannon wasn’t especially interested in offering direct answers to questions like those. If he were alive to read this piece, he’d probably laugh at us. His mind was a heat-seeking missile targeting problems. What got him up in the morning was dissecting how things worked, not digressions into creativity and productivity.

No matter how many people came to him for advice, he never felt that he was in the advice-giving business. During his days as a professor, he was particularly nervous about the mentoring aspect of the job. “I can’t be an advisor,” he once protested. “I can’t give advice to anybody. I don’t have the right to advise.”

As usual, though, Shannon was being excessively modest. He can teach us a lot, even if he approached the whole business of teaching reluctantly and indirectly. To that end, we’ve distilled what we’ve learned from him over these last few years into this piece. It isn’t a comprehensive list by any means, but it does begin, we hope, to reveal what this unknown genius can teach the rest of us about thinking — and living.

12 Lessons Learned, Over Five Years, Writing One Book

1) Cull your inputs.

We all know how the constant distractions of social media and buzzing smartphones destroy focus and productivity. We also know that the problem is considerably more difficult than it was in mid-20th-century America (and yes, we suppose Claude Shannon bears some inadvertent blame for this).

But distractions are a permanent feature of life, in any era, and Shannon shows us that shutting them out isn’t just a matter of achieving random bursts of focus. It’s about consciously designing one’s life and work habits to minimize them.

For one, Shannon didn’t allow himself to get caught up in clearing out his inbox. Letters he didn’t want to respond to went into a bin labeled “Letters I’ve Procrastinated On For Too Long.” In fact, we pored over Shannon’s correspondence at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, which keeps his papers on file — and we found far more incoming letters than outgoing ones. All of that time saved was more time to plow back into research and tinkering.

Inbox zero, be damned.

Shannon extended the same attitude to his time in the office, where his colleagues regularly expected to find his door closed (a rarity in Bell Labs’ generally open-door culture). None of Shannon’s colleagues, to our knowledge, remembered him as rude or unfriendly; but they do remember him as someone who valued his privacy and quiet time for thinking. One colleague remembered, “You would knock on the door and he would talk to you, but otherwise, he kept to himself.”

On the other hand, colleagues who came to Shannon with bold new ideas or fascinating engineering puzzles remembered hours of productive conversations. That’s just to say that Shannon, as in so much else, was deliberate about how he invested his time: in stimulating ideas, not in small talk. Even for those of us who are more extraverted than Shannon was (and, to be honest, that’s nearly all of us), there’s something to learn from how deliberately and consistently he turned his work hours into a distraction-free zone.

2) Big picture first. Details later.

In his mathematical work, Shannon had a quality of leaping right to the central insight and leaving the details to be filled in later. As he once explained it, “I think I’m more visual than symbolic. I try to get a feeling of what’s going on. Equations come later.” It was as if he saw solutions before he could explain why they were correct.

As his student Bob Gallager recalled, “He had a weird insight. He could see through things. He would say, ‘Something like this should be true’…and he was usually right…You can’t develop an entire field out of whole cloth if you don’t have superb intuition.”

Occasionally, this got Shannon in trouble — academic mathematicians sometimes accused him of being insufficiently rigorous in his work. Usually, though, their critiques were misguided. “In reality,” said the mathematician Solomon Golomb, “Shannon had almost unfailing instinct for what was actually true.” If the details of the journey needed filling in, the destination was almost always correct.

Most of us, of course, aren’t geniuses, and most of us don’t have Shannon-level intuition. So is there anything to learn from him here? We think there is: even if our intuitions don’t lead us to develop an entirely new field like information theory, they often have a wisdom that we can choose to tune into or to shut up.

Worrying about missing details and intermediate steps is a sure way to shut our intuitions up, and to miss out on some of our best shots at creative breakthroughs. Expecting our big ideas to unfold logically from premise to conclusion is a misunderstanding of the way creativity usually works in practice. As the writer Rita Mae Brown put it, “Intuition is a suspension of logic due to impatience.”

It’s one thing to clean up and fill in the details after the fact. It’s another thing to mistake the neat-and-tidy way we present our ideas to others, and others present their ideas to us — in an article, a slideshow, or a talk — for the messy process of getting to those ideas. Waiting for a neat-and-tidy breakthrough usually means waiting for a train that’s never arriving.

3) Don’t just find a mentor. Allow yourself to be mentored.

A lot of articles like this preach the value of mentorship, and we don’t want to belabor the point. Of course mentors matter. But a lot of writing about mentorship tends to treat a mentor as something you acquire: find the right smart, successful person to back your career, and you’re all set.

It’s not that simple. Making the most of mentorship doesn’t just require the confidence to approach someone whose guidance can make a difference in your development. It requires the humility to take that guidance to heart, even when it’s uncomfortable, challenging, or counterintuitive. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Shannon’s most pivotal mentor was probably his graduate school advisor at MIT, Vannevar Bush, who went on to coordinate the American scientific effort in WWII and became the first presidential science advisor. Bush recognized Shannon’s genius, but he also did what mentors are supposed to do — he pushed Shannon out of his comfort zone in some productive ways.

For instance, after the success of Shannon’s master’s thesis, Bush urged Shannon to write his PhD dissertation on theoretical genetics, a subject Shannon had to pick up from scratch and that was far afield from the engineering and mathematics he had spent years working on. That Bush pushed Shannon to do so testifies to his trust in his protege’s ability to rise to the challenge; that Shannon agrees testifies to his willingness to stretch himself.

There’s a whole set of possible responses Shannon might have had to that moment (“Genetics, huh?”). But Bush knew what he was doing, and Shannon was humble enough to trust his judgment and let himself be mentored.

Accepting real mentorship is, in part, an act of humility: The best of it comes when you’re actually willing to trust that mentor sees something you don’t see. There’s a reason, after all, that you sought them out in the first place. Be humble enough to listen.

4)  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2017 at 6:46 pm

The polygamous town facing genetic disaster

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Zaria Gorvett reports for the BBC:

“We are to gird up our loins and fulfil this, just as we would any other duty…” said Brigham Young, who led the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), or Mormons, back in the mid-19th Century. It was a sweltering summer’s day in Provo City, Utah and as he spoke, high winds swirled dust around him.

The holy task Young was speaking of was, of course, polygyny, where one man takes many wives (also known by the gender neutral term polygamy). He was a passionate believer in the practice, which he announced as the official line of the church a few years earlier. Now he was set to work reassuring his flock that marrying multiple women was the right thing to do.

He liked to lead by example. Though Young began his adult life as a devoted spouse to a single wife, by the time he died his family had swelled to 55 wives and 59 children.

Fast-forward to 1990, a century after polygyny was abandoned, and the upshot was only just beginning to emerge. In an office several hundred miles from where Young gave his speech, a 10-year-old boy was presented to Theodore Tarby, a doctor specialising in rare childhood diseases.

The boy had unusual facial features, including a prominent forehead, low-set ears, widely spaced eyes and a small jaw. He was also severely physically and mentally disabled.

After performing all the usual tests, Tarby was stumped. He had never seen a case like it. Eventually he sent a urine sample to a lab that specialises in detecting rare diseases. They diagnosed “fumarase deficiency”, an inherited disorder of the metabolism. With just 13 cases known to medical science (translating into odds of one in 400 million), it was rare indeed. It looked like a case of plain bad luck.

But there was a twist. It turned out his sister, whom the couple believed was suffering from cerebral palsy, had it too. In fact, together with colleagues from the Barrow Neurological Institute, soon Tarby had diagnosed a total of eight new cases, in children ranging from 20 months to 12 years old.

In every case, the child had the same distinctive facial features, the same delayed development – most couldn’t sit up, let alone walk – and, crucially, they were from the same region on the Arizona-Utah border, known as Short Creek.

Even more intriguingly, this region is polygynous. In this small, isolated community of Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), the likelihood of being born with fumarase deficiency is over a million times above the global average.

“When I moved to Arizona that’s when I realised that my colleagues here were probably the most familiar I’d ever met with this disease,” says Vinodh Narayanan, a neurologist at the Translational Genomics Research Institute, Arizona, who has treated several patients with fumarase deficiency.

What’s going on?

The disease is caused by a hiccup in the process that provides energy to our cells. In particular, it’s caused by low levels of an enzyme – fumarase – that helps to drive it. Since it was perfected billions of years ago, the enzyme has become a staple of every living thing on the planet. It’s so important, today the instructions for making it are remarkably similar across all species, from owls to orchids.

For those who inherit a faulty version, the consequences are tragic. Though our brains account for just 2% of the body’s total weight, they are ravenously hungry – using up around 20% of its energy supply. Consequently, metabolic disorders such a fumarase deficiency are particularly devastating to the organ. “It results in structural abnormalities and a syndrome including seizures and delayed development,” says Narayanan.

Faith Bistline has five cousins with the disease, who she used to look after until she left the FLDS in 2011. “They are completely physically and mentally disabled,” she says. The oldest started learning to walk when he was two years old, but stopped after a long bout of seizures. Now that cousin is in his 30s and not even able to crawl.

In fact, only one of her cousins can walk. “She can also make some vocalisations and sometimes you can understand a little bit of what she’s saying, but I wouldn’t call it speaking,” she says. They all have feeding tubes and need care 24 hours a day.

Fumarase deficiency is rare because it’s recessive – it only develops if a person inherits two faulty copies of the gene, one from each parent. To get to grips with why it’s plaguing Short Creek, first we need to back to the mid-19th Century.

Brigham Young was a busy man. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2017 at 5:14 pm

Cool animated GIFs

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Take a look.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2017 at 10:08 am

Posted in Software

The ugly tactics Wall Street uses to intimidate and control the press

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Heidi N. Moore, who has been an editor, columnist and reporter for publications including the Guardian U.S. and the Wall Street Journal, writes in the Washington Post:

When Anthony Scaramucci took over as White House communications director, prompting the resignation of press secretary Sean Spicer, the initial reaction from Washington journalists was warily optimistic. Where Spicer was aggressive and hostile, Scaramucci would be “smooth” and affable. He even blew a kiss to end his first press briefing. These looked like signs of a thaw. After all, officials and reporters in Washington may still joke around after a bad story or a slight; the hostility is often for show. Politics is communal and built on co-dependency.

Finance is different. It is individualist and zero-sum. As a reporter and editor covering Wall Street for 18 years, I studied the industry’s aggressive approach toward the press: Financiers, and the multibillion-dollar companies they work for, are friendly and charming as long as you see things their way, and they do everything they can to win reporters over. But when reporters don’t buy their line, the Wall Street answer is to get intransigent journalists removed from stories.

Scaramucci’s vulgar phone call to the New Yorker this past week was far more typical than his genteel first briefing was. If the Trump administration’s approach to the media was alarming before, importing the attitudes and practices Scaramucci learned in New York will only make things worse.

Scaramucci, who ran a relatively modest firm in the enormous world of hedge funds, has proved himself adept at this style. President Trump reportedly liked that Scaramucci’s pushback about an inaccurate CNN story — complete with rumored threat of legal action — led to the departures of three veteran investigative journalists. Scaramucci pointedly called on a CNN reporter at his first briefing and a few days later said, on a hot microphone, that network boss Jeff Zucker “helped me get the job by hitting those guys,” referring to the unemployed reporters. To Trump, the fact that Scaramucci kneecapped three journalists in one swoop surely made him the kind of press guy he was looking for: effective in eliminating enemies.

There’s every reason to believe that the White House team sees this as a model: It will not worry about the accuracy of what is published, only whether the tone is Trump-friendly. Of his new job, Scaramucci says, “It is a client service business, and [Trump] is my client.” Wall Street’s methods of fighting negative coverage are more extensive, brutal and personal than Washington’s. The reigning philosophy is: “I can win only if you lose.”

As a reporter at the Wall Street Journal during the financial crisis, I was boggled by the lengths to which hedge funds and banks would go to kill a story.

When a negative report was in the works, company representatives often called up the journalist writing it and tried to ingratiate themselves with a charming introduction and some light chitchat. The point was to humanize the people at the firm so that journalists would feel guilty reporting negatively about it. (This almost never worked.) Maybe they’d invite the journalist to an outing — a bank-sponsored tennis game, a classical music concert — or a party held by the firm to get the journalist “in the fold.” When a piece was in process, they’d follow up daily, trying to get a sense of who the journalist’s sources were and the direction of the story. The key at this point was to keep their enemies close.

For example, when I was reporting on an executive coup at Morgan Stanley, the bank’s representatives were in touch with me more often than I spoke to my own mother. “Why would your publication waste time on a story like this?” they’d ask. “It’s all going to blow over.”

My favorite of their techniques, used by two major investment houses, was to flatly deny a story that I knew was accurate. When I offered to call my sources to reconfirm, the response I received was: “That’s it? That’s your negotiation?” As a journalist, I didn’t see the truth as subject to negotiation. But Wall Street did; it’s all about what you can get.

When charm didn’t work, I saw or heard about firms wheedling, pleading, threatening, calling editors and even contacting media executives. Insults and obscenities were common. One troubled hedge fund’s foul-mouthed manager called me every day for a week with some new litany of abuse.

Other companies tried to co-opt aggressive reporters by offering them lucrative jobs (financial journalists cannot report on companies to which they have ties, including potential job offers — at the Wall Street Journal, we weren’t even allowed to be friends on Facebook with PR people). As I was reporting one critical story about a hedge fund, it had a friendly PR firm dangle opportunities in front of me. I had no interest, but I told my editor and handed the story to another reporter nonetheless. Some journalists took those jobs, working for companies they once covered. That’s the kind of trap that former Wall Street Journal reporter Jay Solomon apparently fell into; he was fired last month for allegedly trying to broker arms deals between his sources to strengthen the relationships.

Another company, alarmed at my front-page story about the impending failure of a multibillion-dollar merger,  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2017 at 8:27 am

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